When I went back to school in 1992 to take the second year of the radio, television and Journalism Arts program at Lambton College of Arts and Technology, there were computers in the newsroom.
There were about a dozen computers for up to thirty students, although first year numbers dropped off quickly and there were only about eight or ten students taking the second year. Both classes used the same newsroom.
The journalism instructor and RTJ program head Geoff Lane had what was referred to as a ‘386’ computer on his desk. This was a source of great pride, and obviously the way of the future. Broadcasting instructor John Murray was justifiably proud of his Amiga Commodore, complete with something called the Video Toaster, a dedicated hardware and software program. We had a television studio and a radio booth in the bottom level of the college. This included the studio control room. We had a separate editing suite as well, with a bit of an annex and a bit of storage, stuff jammed under the cupboards and rolling shelf units with more old stuff tucked in here and there. We had professional Panasonic and Sony ENG cameras and battery-belts, lights and microphones and the class could expect to enter into a number of projects over the year. The studio used dolly mounted cameras bought from a defunct television station, or old equipment donated from corporate sources.
When I first attended the program in 1983, there were no computers in the building at all.
In 1992 I was a mature student, and I was the only one in the class who had his own computer. This was a cast-off IBM clone which had belonged to my mother, a financial planner for a few years in the eighties and early nineties.
Geoff brought us up, one at a time, during a work session—very much hands-on, with the occasional short briefing from the instructor, and showed us how it worked. We sat there at his knee.
The program was Aldus Pagemaker. He showed me how to select font, page size, how to lay out the page, insert photos and graphics, etc. He did all that in about twenty minutes. No one I know of got a crack at that computer. Budgets and institutions being what they are, if someone seriously damaged the thing, and that was pretty easy to do, there would have been some kind of hell to pay.
It was easy to see the potential.
The old Compugraphic 880 in the back room and the laying out of the paper on blue-ruled flats, then shooting it with a graphic arts camera onto photosensitive emulsion, was right there in the back rooms of the department. That camera was a big box. Mounted on rails, the camera pointed at the wall, where a perforated plate and a vacuum system held the paper in place while you took the shot.
The comparison was stark enough.
That little box on the teacher’s desk did away with all of that, just as the Video Toaster did away with razor blades and acetate tape and reels and reels and reels of celluloid film and iron oxide impregnated plastic tape.
One day I did a stupid thing, and took a story home on a floppy disk to work on it at home. Imagine my dismay to open up the document, start working on it, only to see a Pong virus, a little dot on the screen, going back and forth and up and down…knocking out pixels on something I had just written.
I wasn’t even on the internet and of course I had no clue whatsoever about viruses.
The point of all of this is fairly simple.
We have come a very long way.
I have all of that right here on my desk. My video camera fits in the palm of my hand...it's not pro quality, but you have to admit they are impressive compared to the old brick cameras of twenty years ago, still relying on tape cartridges.
Twenty or thirty years have passed since I entered a newsroom equipped with a couple of dozen ironclads, Olivetti, Underwood and Corona typewriters.
While it is true that everything they knew at the time is obsolete, and all they could do was to give us the basics, the fact is that none of that instruction was wasted.
The question is of course what you end up doing with it.
I saw an old friend downtown the other day. It might be more accurate to say that I avoided seeing an old friend that day.
That guy had spent four years in a good university studying Literature. He could quote Tolkien at length.
He never did a damned thing with it.
As far as I know, he’s still living in the homeless shelter.
He’ll be in an early grave—alcoholism will do that to you, to a point where it’s irreversible even if you quit, and some of them guys do know that.
Whereas I, on the other hand, am just getting started.
Where he was indulging his basest desires, (all of them), I was sublimating all of that dark and sexual energy (or a fair bit of it) into something hopefully a little greater than the sum of its parts.
So let’s say life’s not so good.
If you really want to escape that life, the first thing you have to escape is that environment, and that environment includes your friends.
I have escaped my friends, ladies and gentlemen.
The environment is the next thing to go.
Life is a series of choices, encompassing a million shades of grey, and even a little black and white once in a while.
More than anything, it is what you make of it.
And those losers weren’t going anywhere.